13 November 2009 ~ You could forgive Derry City fans for feeling as if the last week has been a bizarre dream. It began with expulsion from the League of Ireland last Saturday and took in daily twists such as contract fraud, en masse board resignation and probable liquidation. And yet it ended on Thursday with John Delaney, FAI chief executive, offering the club, despite its tattered credibility and crippling debts, a fast track back in: “It’s important to us Derry play in the LOI next season. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t come to pass.”
For some time Derry City have been in crisis. The club failed to pay players for over ten weeks and accrued debts of more than £500,000. But last Saturday the crisis dissolved into farce. The FAI booted the club from the LOI for contravening the terms of their licence. In order to get around the 65 per cent rule (where no club can spend over 65 per cent of income on wages), the association found Derry had submitted contracts indicating the players were paid less than they actually were. According to the FAI, the club admitted to more than 20 fake contracts.
But how did the FAI detect such a sophisticated and thoroughly thought-out attempt at cheating? Well, naturally, this type of fraud is aided by actually paying players at all. Darren Quigley, a goalkeeper on loan at Sporting Fingal, inadvertently let slip the real amount the club were paying him when he went to the FAI to claim wages he was owed. Quigley’s bank statements were enough to prove the club’s recklessness.
The fallout has been another embarrassment for the league and seen a proud club’s reputation shredded – not to mention the players who may have been aware of the dual contracts. Derry City’s board of directors, led by chairman Pat McDaid, issued furious denials and threatened legal action but by Tuesday all bar one had resigned. The same day several players admitted signing dual contracts but disavowed any knowledge of the scam, insisting their belief that one was a blank registration form.
In essence the FAI gained the best result possible from the sorry mess. The club’s board, whose brazen denials had infuriated the association, were gone. The players, who provided tame, eyebrow-raising excuses but hadn’t been paid in ten weeks, were welcomed back in. With the old regime gone, the FAI made their desire to see Derry City back in the league abundantly clear. It appears the club could be fast-tracked straight into the First Division with not so much as a point deduction, although it will almost certainly require liquidation and a new entity, with a clean financial slate, taking control.
Derry have been down this debt-ridden road before, however, and know how hard it is to come back. An opportunity now exists for Derry to reform with sizeable input from the fans, whether through a supporters trust or a committee with fan representation. But whichever direction the club now turns, it must be, finally, with lessons learned. Otherwise Derry City risk turning last week’s dreamscape into a recurring nightmare. Ciaran McCauley